New Times New Hats
Retirement means dancing to a new tune.
Sure, there's time for doing hobbies and what you love when you retire. But you don't just wake up the day after you leave work and become a piña-colada drinking, Bermuda-shorts wearing lounge-about. With several decades to go, retirement is the perfect time for retirees to take their past experience and mix it with passions, hobbies and resources to do something they've put off when they had their "real" job.
Take Charlie Burke, for instance.
As a urologic surgeon with a practice in North Andover, Mass., and chief of surgery at Lawrence General Hospital, Burke says he was spending about 80 percent of his time and energy working. "I'm not complaining," he says. "It was gratifying, but as time went on I felt like the guy on the kayak being swept down the rapids."
Burke says he was always interested in other things - travel, cooking, spending time with his wife and two sons and their families -but with 12-hour workdays the rule rather than the exception, it didn't leave a whole lot of time to enjoy any of them. "My wife Joanne and I decided that if we were careful economically then I could retire a few years earlier."
Around this time Joanne spied an article about Don Kent, known as "Boston's first weatherman," and his retirement home in Sanbornton, N.H. Joanne made an appointment to see the house and they both fell in love with the area, especially the fields and stone walls.
A few months later Burke retired and he and Joanne bought Weather Hill Farm with 36 acres of land in Sanbornton "and we haven't looked back." That first year the couple bought a tractor and other farm equipment to grow organic vegetables for themselves, but overshot the amount they needed. They took the excess to the Sanbornton farmers market, which had just opened up. "The next thing I knew, we were in it," says Burke. A friend of his suggested they form an association of farmers markets and they did. In the beginning the farmers markets numbered 32; today there's close to 90 - though he's quick not to take any credit for the additional members. "It's been the whole groundswell of buying locally and organically."
Burke served as vice president of the association for a while, and through his farming connections, linked up with others who wanted to couple New Hampshire chefs to local farmers. "Before this, everybody just backed the SYSCO truck up and never thought of the farm just down the road," says Burke, who ended up forming the New Hampshire Farm to Restaurant Connection (which started out independently but is now under the umbrella of NH Made)with a mission to preserve the state's farms, open spaces and rural heritage.
As the Farm to Restaurant work increased, selling their vegetables got to be way too hectic, Burke says, so the couple now grows just for themselves. Still, with Farm to Restaurant Growers Dinners throughout the state held throughout the year, as well as seminars at the Farm to Forest Expo and work on a new website "dating service" offering distribution service between farmers and chefs called NHfarms.com (not to mention being active in his local church), Burke still manages to keep a lot on his plate, even in retirement.
"I think when you're in medicine it selects certain Type-A personalities," says Burke. "Joanne joked that I didn't stop working, I just stopped getting paid."
Marge McClellan, 72, of Berlin, had always worked in bookkeeping, and after her divorce in the early '70s she took a job at a mental health agency doing their books, "but it became part of who I was, sitting in that office with folks and their problems," she says. In 1991 she started working for Anderscoggin Valley Home Care Services, where she worked her way up the ranks to eventually become executive director. For her, volunteering her time in the same field as she retired in allowed her to continue helping people in social services - but in a way that she felt comfortable pursuing.
"I retired early in 2001 at 62," says McClellan. "I just didn't feel like I could do the job the way I wanted to do it and didn't want to drift through the last three years. So when I retired it gave me a lot of opportunities to do a lot of board work - social services have a hard time getting board members - and to form better connections with my own family."
These are especially difficult times for social services, says McClellan, who was one of the 2010 Vaughan Award recipients, awarded each year to honor an individual in each county, 60 or older, who has demonstrated leadership and volunteer service for New Hampshire's senior citizens. "There isn't an agency that wouldn't accept a volunteer at some level: board, committee, office help. Look around at things happening in the community," she suggests.
Her other advice? No matter what age you are when you retire you have to have something that is either a passion or you have to feel needed. "Those two things go together," she adds. "If you're lucky you have both."
Karen Newport, 66, moved up to Keene in 2003 after 36 years of working in New York City and living in Greenwich Village. "I knew there were things that I wanted to do when I retired," she says. "I wanted to paint, get involved with the theatre and get involved with a literacy program." Reading the newspaper one day she found out about the Monadnock Retired & Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) and, after inquiring, learned about the America Reads program. "My mother had a book in my crib when I was born," she laughs, "and I've always loved to read and thought it was important." She used to work in the computer industry for the Helmsleys and even opened Euro Disney, so reading with a bunch of first graders? Piece of cake. Now in her eighth year with the same teacher at a school in Keene, she finds the "work" incredibly rewarding.
"It's wonderful to see them and know that you've touched their lives. I really do help them read. You can see them struggling at the beginning and then all of a sudden a light switch is flipped and they're reading. To see that happen and know you were a part of it is rewarding."
Newport likes that America Reads is also flexible. "You can do as much or as little as you want with this program," she says. "It makes it very easy to do the volunteering and not feel like you're tied down."
"You have to want to do it," Newport says. "Find the things that you love to do and feel like you're achieving something and accomplishing something. It makes you a different person. Every person I met who does volunteering says it makes their lives so much better. They get so much out of it, and it comes back to you. I haven't met one person who doesn't feel that way."
"I worked all my life and you miss that sense of accomplishment. You need to have something else that gives you that - volunteering is exactly that, it gives you a purpose and a sense of accomplishment and self worth. Even if it's just for a day, it doesn't have to be every week," says Newport. "Organizations these days need volunteers more than ever. It's good for other people and in the end, it's good for you. NH
Volunteer StatsAccording to the National Conference on Citizenship (NCoC), nearly 60 percent of American citizens reached out to help their neighbor at least once a month, and 1 in 6 do it almost every day.
Even given last year's hard economic times, more than one-fifth of unemployed Americans regularly volunteered.
Between 2008 and 2009, volunteering saw the largest increase since 2003, but the overall volunteering rate still remains lower than it was in 2001-2005. Baby boomers are currently the most engaged generation, in part because they have reached the time of life when engagement typically peaks. Boomers lead all other generations in every civic activity except voting, where those over 65 are the most engaged.
The most common activities associated with these volunteer opportunities include fundraising, preparing food, tutoring, mentoring and providing transportation.